This a recap of what I did in 2023, where am I right now and what my current plan is.
Before starting, you have this optional feature of playing this soundtrack by Unfold (Esteban Dal Monte) while reading the blogpost, I was hearing it while writing the last reviews.
When I started this journey of making my own games, I analyzed my situation and defined some objectives to achieve, and some pillars to have in mind all the time, things that might change over time but were a good starting point to have.
I was super inspired by Sokpop Collective and PUNKCAKE Délicieux (among others), both teams develop small games, with great quality, super fast and I wanted to achieve something similar at some point.
The pillars I defined were:
- Long term growth: each time I work on something, it has to have some value for me in the future or I should modify the premise to have some value for me in the future.
- Tools and workflows: create and improve tools and workflows all the time to minimize non creative time and improve my development speed over time.
- Overcome weakness: train, improve, find different ways to attack my weakness while also improving my strengths.
- Start small / Mini games: don’t make an MMO, attack things I can control both in content and scope, so for example, if a project becomes too big, reduce it or cancel it.
And my objectives were:
- Find a game to work on: my idea was to participate in many game jams as possible to try different things and find something interesting. During that process, find the proper scope for my games and develop new tools and workflows to become faster.
- Find a way to have art in my games: for this issue I had like different paths in mind to explore like buying assets, hiring an artist, find a teammate/partner and even start doing the art myself, things to explore over time.
I didn’t have a clear roadmap, it was more like I want to do this or that so my actions should reflect that, and at some point I will start completing the objectives (I hope).
Ok, that was the intro, now I want to share a more detailed story of what happened in 2023 but you can jump to Conclusions if you want to just read the end of the story.
2023 review in detail
I’ve started by working on a Beat’em up with my friend Franco Zucchi. I was super excited with this one, really wanted to learn from this genre while also doing something together. It was a ninja game really inspired by Naruto. I decided to use the TMNT assets to start prototyping and Franco did the main character concepts and some placeholder animations to work with.
Note: this was before 2023, but for now I just considered all together since I don’t have a lot to share about 2022.
We quickly found out that it wasn’t the right time to do something together, Franco was really busy with his own Company and games at that time. However, instead of cancelling the project I decided to continue it as a learning process and purchased some assets as an experiment too.
I iterated a lot, with different assets packs, these are different versions of the same game:
After those iterations, it ended up looking something like this:
Even though it started with bigger and maybe better looking assets, the process was to reduce assets resolution and complexity to see if it was something I could modify if I had to, or if I had to hire someone it should be easier for them too, compared to the initial version.
During this process I found penusbmic and his assets pack and I fell in love with the art and animation style. One thing I realized was that, even with low res asset packs I found myself limited pretty fast when I wanted to try something new and I didn’t feel ready to modify the assets for my needs (yet?).
You can play the game here.
After spending a lot of time in this game, I wasn’t so sure how to stop working on it, I mean, I knew this was a learning process but it was becoming a project more and more, I was thinking lots of ideas I wanted to try but I believed this wasn’t the right project. Thankfully, a Ludumdare was coming and that was the proper excuse to stop thinking in this game and do something different to clear my mind.
Spice Must Flow
It was super fun to do and I had the chance to try something different, a low poly 3d game with vehicle driving mechanics.
You can play the game here if you want to.
Participating in this game jam refreshed me and helped me deciding to abandon the Beat’em up and go back to make mini games and/or prototypes to try to find something interesting I want to, and I can, finish to the end. I decided to start making my own “game jams”, where I had to make a game in one or two weeks, and let my spice flow….
Stranded: planet survivor
This was a survivor game like Don’t starve but Sci-fi, and was heavily inspired by Penusbmic Stranded asset pack. The story was that you are one of those guys that go to explore a planet in FTL and never return, so you are now alone in an unknown planet and you have to find a way to fix your ship and return to your crew.
After one or two weeks of development, I only had some world generation but there was no real game, only exploration, it was fun to make but trying to do all the ideas I had for that game in two weeks was impossible (part of this process was to learn to control the scope of my games).
If you want you can play the game here.
A glitch in the matrix: At some point in the future (don’t remember exactly when), and inspired by other developers, I experimented mixing low poly cellshaded 3d (and shader graph!) with pixel art billboards thinking in better world generation for the game, here is a video of that:
My next mini game was Hunter Games. You play a hunter competing for your tribe and you have to hunt more creeps than the other hunters in order to save your people.
I wasn’t looking for something new with this minigame, just wanted to complete a mini experience and have a game loop, even though it was pretty simple, but compared with the previous game which has no game loop at all. I was super happy with the result and this game became the core for other prototypes and mini experiences I did later.
Interesting fact: while writing this blogpost I though this game was released mid 2023 but when I checked out I released it around Feb 13, which means my memory is probably mixing up stuff.
Super Dino Box
At this point I was working on an app for two of my friends and also teaching “Programación de Videojuegos” in Universidad ORT but I also wanted to be focused 100% on games in the future. For that reason I thought about having a lateral income related with games, maybe with mobile and/or web games.
A friend of mine was developing games for Poki at that time and recommended it, so I decided to see if I could publish something there, and since I had two other friends (Matías Sniadower and Enzo Gaiero) who were also interested in experimenting this too, we decided to do something together. I was super excited since we were a more complete team: an artist, a game designer and a programmer, and if this worked we could do more stuff in the future.
After analyzing other games and also based on our interests, we decided to make a game like a Super Crate Box but with Dinosaurs that should take around one month of work to complete.
After a week of work we concluded it was going to take longer that we wanted to spend so we aborted the idea. However, we didn’t lose interest of trying to do something for Poki in the future.
Timeline: we are around March at this point.
Endless Runner -> Gorilla Jones
As I said before, Matías and I were still interested in publishing a game in Poki and thought about using this Endless Runner as part of that experiment, so we decided to continue working on it but changing graphics to be original high resolution content.
The game evolved to be Gorilla Jones:
During its development, we started interacting with Poki and had like 3 iterations but in the end they weren’t so interested in the game, it wasn’t clear if they didn’t like the game itelf, the genre wasn’t a good match for the platform or if they were avoiding Unity games, so we decided to not spend more time on it. However, we also decided to publish the game for free on itch, you can play it here.
- Game wasn’t published in Poki so we have no idea if that is a good platform and we also don’t know how to publish a game there (maybe for good).
- We couldn’t align our work hours with Mati and I had high expectations on working together (we didn’t discuss this before starting), those two things ended up in me not enjoying the process. I still love his art style and whatever he does.
- Working on this game was a good experiment that should’ve failed sooner.
- I had the chance to experiment more with procedural generation and also to learn more things about game and level design (Thanks Leandro and Enzo for that!).
Timeline: game was released on September.
During some gaps in the development of Gorilla Jones (like waiting for poki or waiting for assets) I still did some mini game jams.
Mini RTS experience
This is a an RTS experience focused on micromanagement, that means controlling multiple units with lot of actions like move, attack, stop, etc, and making them survive difficult situations. It was also developed in around two weeks as part of my personal jams.
With this game I was also focused on having a game loop (win and lose) while also trying to improve the game feel (blood particles, dead bodies, etc). I obviously had more ideas in mind I couldn’t try in time but I am still pretty happy with the results.
Note: I really love the RTS genre and from time to time come back to try to develop something related to it.
Timeline: this game was developed in July and released at the beginning of August.
While developing the previous game, I was already looking for a game jam to participate (not one of my own) and found the low rez jam. The idea is to make a low resolution (64x64) game in two weeks and there were different optional themes that you could pick, even more than one if you want. In my case, I decided to consider Invasion and Catch’Em All, and made a game named Abduction 101, where you play an UFO abducting people, destructing stuff and invading earth.
This game was super fun to make, but it was more like a sandbox, I couldn’t find a good lose condition and the win condition is not so satisfactory, but just playing, throwing stuff, abducting people, spawning aliens, etc, is fun.
One thing I loved about joining this jam was that it was the first time I made all the assets for a game, and it didn’t look bad. Having a limitation in resolution and colors allowed me to create art (by brute force in some way) that I felt in control, finally. This opened a new possibility that I decided to explore more: make lower resolution games and do the art myself.
Timeline: this game was released mid August.
A failed GBJAM?
On September, there was going to be a new GBJam, a jam that I normally love to participate with Franco and we were preparing for it some time before it started. We were discussing about making the second part of Nekosama and try to adapt the theme (not announced yet) in any way we could.
After the theme “Space” was announced, we quickly discussed some ideas to add to Nekosama and I developed some prototypes:
Even though we wanted to expand Nekosama, we thought that maybe this mechanic goes better with a 2d platformer game when making level/puzzles, so we tested changing that.
But Franco was busy again with its own Company and I felt like I was working alone. So after a couple of days of that situation I realized that didn’t work for me and decided to leave the jam.
I was super demotivated and didn’t want to do anything games related (at least for some days).
Almost participating in the jam in the end?
By the weekend (almost at the end of the jam) I decided to start doing some mockups and found something I liked and my motivation was back. I decided to create a game named “There is no room in space”. It was like an Enter the Gungeon kind of game where you explore attachable rooms in space, like you decide where to move and the room was going to be attached like Loot River (I never managed to do that but was my vision).
I obviously couldn’t complete it in two days so I didn’t publish it but there were some positive things here. I tried again low resolution concepts (and even animated the character) that I felt comfortable with and also I managed to make a lot of stuff in two days so I was improving my dev speed. I started to feel I could make the art of my games, maybe not super awesome art but art anyways.
So my conclusion in the end was that, even though I didn’t participate in the jam, it was a success in some way, I had the opportunity to test myself in creating art again, and also tested something different.
Timeline: we are almost at the end of September at this point.
During the nekosama 2d prototype I got interested in learning more about level design, so I decided to continue that one for a while. The idea was to make some levels based on the teleport mechanic while also trying to do some low res assets again.
I didn’t explore a lot on puzzle/level design but I did some 1 bit palette low res art exploration, with particles and other stuff, and I thought: there is something interesting to continue exploring here.
Timeline: we are around mid of October at this point.
You can play the prototype here.
A successful 1bit jam I never joined -> Ship miner
While working on the nekoplatformer thing the 1-bit jam #2 got my interest. I was expecting this jam long time before it started, it was like the proper jam to test what I was exploring/learning about low res art style.
But since there was still some time before the jam, and I am a bit anxious, I started making some mockups to see what can I do even though I didn’t have the theme yet:
The idea was like a moon lander game where you have to land in different environments/planets. I kinda liked this concept so I started making some prototypes which quickly evolved from a lander into a mining game (I was playing a lot of Dome Keeper at that time). Here there is a video of the first iterations:
This was the first time something I do get a lot of people interested by just looking a gif or video of an early prototype. This doesn’t mean the game is good but that it has some auto marketing potential.
Another great thing is that, during development, while testing a new feature or content I normally end up playing for a while and sometimes I even forget I was testing something specific. What I mean here is, I like playing it for long periods.
So this was a huge success in terms of my initial objectives. I found a game I want to continue, seems interesting for people and also has an art style I can control (I hope), this means I can create what I need for the game or if I can’t then maybe the game shouldn’t have that feature or content.
The only bad thing was, at this point of the year (November), I was working a lot on other projects and had almost no time to spend on developing this game. I hope I can recover some free time in the next months.
Working with penusbmic
After using Penusbmic assets in most of my mini games, and also participating a in his Discord server, I caught his attention. At some point in December he asked me if I could make a quick demo to validate some animations for a new enemy he was doing. After some quick iterations, that escalated into making a complete working demo and publish it into on itch to see if experiencing an alive version of an asset helped other devs when buying the asset. I am super happy with the interaction and iterations we had, and with the results and would love to improve that demo with more units in the future.
Here comes a new challenger!
By the end of the year, I friend of mine recommended me for a project as unity/gamedev consultant and after some talks I started working for Colin Karpfinger in Cleared Hot, a Helicopter action game with lots of shooting like the good ol’days.
Working on this project is awesome and it is what I wanted when doing work for hire, to be able to use all my game development knowledge and experience. At the same time, I am enjoying a lot working directly with Colin the day to day and also learning a lot. Hope I can help as much as I can to make the release of this game the best way possible.
Considering the objectives I defined when I started, here are the conclusions for 2023:
- I found a game I want to develop and has some appeal.
- I did a lot of mini games that I am supper happy with.
- I found an art style I like and I can control.
- Didn’t find an art teammate yet, and I don’t know if I want or at least if I try again, I have to lower my expectations.
- Buying art was great for prototyping but felt limited when I have to modify for my needs (and also lot of devs might be using the same assets).
- Improved my tools, workflows and dev speed.
- I am working as consultant for a game so I am going closer to being 100% of my time on game development.
- I had the chance to work with one of my favorite pixelart artist thanks to the mini games I did.
As a side note, I improved my selection history plugin during the last year and I am super happy a lot of people seems to be using it.
Where am I right now?
My plan now is to keep working on both work for hire projects: the app and the game but balancing towards game dev over time. In terms of my games, I want to focus on Ship Miner but I don’t want to stop doing jams from time to time since I believe is part of my DNA and want to keep it that way.
Special thanks for my friend Esteban Dal Monte and my brother Iván Coppes for helping me with the soundtracks of the games, and to my friends Rubén and Juan Andrés Nin for being there all the time to discuss how to survive in the industry and giving me feedback of my blog posts before publishing them.
Thanks for reading.